NEW Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has rightly gained plaudits for the way she has led her country during of the Covid-19 pandemic. People have praised her communication skills, the speed with which she introduced emergency measures and the fact she put public safety and health before other considerations.

This week Ardern announced that New Zealand, a country of just under five million people, has stopped widespread community transmission of coronavirus. She called for vigilance as restrictions begin to be lifted, to prevent a second wave of cases.

If New Zealand has eliminated the virus for now, why can’t Scotland do the same? The approach in New Zealand has differed from our approach in two important ways.

Firstly, compared to the UK, New Zealand’s rules by which lockdown operates are crystal clear. The stricter lockdown seen in New Zealand may have been very hard for people at first, but it meant it did not need to last as long.

The strict “level-four” lockdown meant far more businesses were compelled to close. It meant people could not even order takeaway food to be delivered.

Now, after just over four weeks, the country is moving to a “level-three” lockdown, which will allow one day of school a week and some retailers and restaurants to reopen on a smaller scale with strict rules on social distancing.

This is very different from the situation here, where the virus is nowhere near eliminated, yet fast-food outlets like Greggs, Burger King and McDonald’s can reopen when they like.

But the most important difference with New Zealand, and with many other countries, is in testing. Their rigorous commitment to test, trace and isolate every case is markedly different from the UK, which is only starting to talk about doing this now.

The Scottish Government published its framework for this, but it seems to focus on suppression of the virus until a vaccine is developed, rather than a clear commitment to eradicate it.

Professor Sir Hugh Pennington urged us to pursue eradication, then at Holyrood’s Covid-19 committee Deputy First Minister John Swinney suggested the government was pursuing both objectives at the same time.

The Scottish Government needs to be clearer. If we are to aim for the latter, we need to map the data through a firm test, trace and isolate strategy, in the same way New Zealand has done.

Wednesday’s figures from the National Records of Scotland on the number of deaths in Scotland from this virus were sobering to say the least. We have reached more than 2200 Covid-related deaths in Scotland, and 39% of them have been in care homes.

That is why I proposed that we routinely test every health and care worker for Covid-19, whether they have symptoms or not. The evidence shows the virus is spread before or when mild symptoms arrive, so the urgency is clear if we are to prevent transmission, protect our workers and eliminate the virus.

As well as providing more data, instituting routine testing would help reduce anxiety and better protect frontline staff, and it would ensure no-one needs to isolate needlessly.

When I published the proposal many people got in touch with supportive comments, including the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and other experts working on the frontline.

The First Minister has questioned the reliability of tests on those who don’t have symptoms, yet there is a series of studies that shows how valuable it is. For example, half of the positive cases on the Diamond Princess cruise ship were asymptomatic at the time of testing.

A recent article in the BMJ found that 78% of new infections identified in China were asymptomatic.

In Italy, testing of all residents of a village of 3000 people found 89 cases, the majority of which were not showing symptoms at the time.

No test of this kind has 100% accuracy, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used, especially when lives are on the line.

Scotland can eliminate coronavirus, but only if we test, trace and isolate.

Ardern said this week that tracking down the last few coronavirus cases in New Zealand would be like “looking for a needle in a haystack” as they rigorously trace every person that has been in contact with known cases.

Until we expand our testing and tracing regime, sadly Scotland has yet to identify the haystack.